Final report secured for Cunningham Beautification Project

By Crystal Kang

The city of Urbana will borrow themes from its agrarian past through its major developmental project centered on beautifying Cunningham Avenue, a major entrance into Urbana.

According to Claire Bennett Associates Inc. (CBA), Urbana’s hired consultant, the Cunningham Beautification Project looks to increase the corridor’s redevelopment potential and multi-modal use.

It further strives to enhance the connection to the downtown.

The city council approved CBA’s final report Oct. 20 detailing design ideas that will embellish a stretch of Cunningham Avenue from the railroad tracks south of University Avenue to Airport Road north of Interstate 74.

At this point, the city is working to prioritize items within the project and decide what the first step is.

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The first hurdle the city is facing is the question of how much funding the tax increment financing (TIF), district will generate in a given time frame.

“We’re at the point where we prioritize, look at the budget and see where our TIF budget goes and if money is available,” said Urbana redevelopment specialist Ryan Brault.

Brault said once there is an understanding about how much money is available from the tax increment financing, the city can enter its engineering and constructing phase.

“TIF generates property taxes,” Urbana Economic Development Manager Tom Carrino said. “We’re collecting funding from other governmental agencies. When you create a TIF, you freeze taxes at that level. Any taxes generated above that level go to the city to fund the project. Any business expansions generate funding.”

Adequate funding and implementation of CBA’s architectural and conceptual designs will allow the residents to see that the grass is greener on both sides of Cunningham Avenue. Part of the design outline CBA recommended is to install stalks of greenery, namely prairie grass, along both sides of Cunningham Avenue to improve the city’s value of nature.

Adding to the aesthetics of the corridor, light pole fixtures and benches are topics of discussion that are still up in the air.

“We’re trying to closely match in appearance the light poles along Vine Street and provide fixtures that will have unique features and set Cunningham apart,” said CBA Landscape Architect Stefan Luebke. “We suggested using forms and surface benches on Cunningham. The city wanted to provide some benches at key locations, mostly bus stops.”

CBA recommended that Urbana expand the sidewalks along the corridor to six feet and create a 10-foot wide multi-use path from Airport Road to Kenyon Road on the east side of Cunningham. Luebke said with the price of oil increasing, expanding sidewalks could help reduce the usage of vehicles and bring connectedness to the city.

Urbana’s commercial business buildings have an abundance of curb cuts that are unsafe and detract from the beauty of the roadways.

Luebke said most of these curb ways could be eliminated since small businesses that used to own property near the driveways have merged into one larger company.

“The abundance of curb cuts are visually cluttering the corridor and create an unsafe situation for pedestrians and cyclists because they have to stop at each one,” said Luebke.

Despite the challenges of redeveloping the corridor, CBA emphasizes the benefits of working with Urbana.

“The benefits of developing the corridor is it gives (the city) a unified look, provides a better environment for developers to come in and lifts the character and pride of the community,” Luebke said.